How to Find and Report Stolen Content from your Website
You can't stop others from copying your website content, even if it's copyrighted, because the very fact that it can be viewed in a browser enables others to steal it.
However, there are steps you can take to get stolen website content removed from the offending website. See several examples below of successful attempts to get copyrighted content removed from content thieves.
Copyright Rules for Stolen Website Content
Every hosting company has very strict rules for it's clients about copyright infringement and content theft. If the hosting company doesn't uphold those rules they can loose their license so this can work in your favor.
If one of their clients breaks those rules, you can ask the client to remove it. If they refuse, or don't reply to your request, you can contact the hosting company. If that doesn't work you can file a DMCA report with their hosting company. They will sometimes either enforce that rule or in some cases even remove the offending website itself.
You can also report the site to Google's Spam Report for content theft as well as the other major search engines and if the offending scammer has Google AdSense and are using it for illegal activities you can report it there also (the same with other PayPerClick services). There are of course legal actions you can take prevent website copying but the following steps may save you that expense.
How to Check if your Content has been Stolen
- Find stolen text or articles: Check any search engine using very original text near the top of your page and put it in quotes.
- Find stolen images: Use Google's Image search or any other search engine that allows you to search for images and use any word that would describe your image. You can also search for the image file name but they may have changed it.
- Use CopyScape which allows you to enter your web pages URL and it will bring up any site with your stolen content on it. Look for listings with a significant amount of words from your website being copied.
Protecting your Images
Note: There is no proven method to protect your images. Even applying a transparent image over your own image will not prevent theft. This method only prevents novices from stealing it. A professional thief knows how to gather images off the Internet, which I won't mention here for obvious reasons.
If you are getting a lot of visitors via Google-images you can disallow Googlebot from your image files in robots.txt so people only see your images on your website.
Prevent Stolen Content Theft with rel="author"
According to Google's Sagar Kamdar, you can protect your content from theft by using the rel="author tag" at the end of your article and linking to your Google profile which has a "Contributor To" link back to the home page of your website. You can also do this in an email. Rel="author" is supposed to prove to Google that you are the author of your content and for Google to not let other scraped copies outrank your content.
Once the author tag is set up and Google indexes your pages it may take a few weeks for this to show up in the SERPs. Then, if your page has been scraped in the past, you can check your main keywords for this page and the scrapers should no longer be outranking you for the content on your page.
Steps to Remove Stolen Content
1. Gather contact information from the website that stole your content via their contact page. If they have no phone or contact email on the website (or it bounces) you can check domaintools.com which provides contact information for all domains, unless they paid for private registration.
Other options to find the owners contact information:
- Search for the contact address on Mapquest
- Search for the registrant or administrator's name in the Whitepages.com or BackgroundChecks.org
- Search for the name on the internet using Google or Yahoo Search
- Call the phone company for infomation about that name
If you can't find the owner's contact information you'll need to skip to #2 below and contact the hosting company (which you can find in the whois information).
If all of the contact info for the domain is false and the phone company says there is no person by that name listed in that city then this domain was likely purchased for illegal practices which is against the law and a definite scam. You can report them to the org that regulates registration of domains at Whois Inaccuracy Complaint Form Give them proof that the content is yours and include all pertinent info in the letter (more info below).
2. Gather proof that the content is actually yours. A registered document with the US Copyright office is best but if you don't have it registered then you need to use proof from a third party online, i.e., an electronic copy (save a browser copy or Web Archive via your browser when you write it) or save a copy of Google's cache of your page or website with a date soon as it's indexed. Hopefully you have already done this previous to the date the content was stolen.
Alternatively, if you allowed anyone else to post the data on their site, with your permission, possibly in a newsletter with a date on it PREVIOUS to the copyright infringement, then include that URL in your letter.
If your website with the stolen content has been online more than 1 year you may be able to provide a copy from the Way Back Machine which keeps copies of websites and will provide 3rd party proof who had the content online first. This does not prove ownership but does prove when it was first published online.
4. Write the owner of the site with the copyright infringement and send a cease and desist letter (see link below for instructions). If they don't remove it, or refuse to do so, then go to step 5 (if it's blatant content theft and they have done this to others also, you may want to just skip this step and go directly to the host company as they already know they are thieves and don't deserve a warning).
5. Write the host of those who stole your content. Look for the hosting company's TOS (Terms of Service) or some other page listing rules about using the site. A TOS usually has strict rules about copyright infringement. Quote those rules that apply to your situation in the letter. The offender's whole website will probably be removed if you can prove the content is yours.
See instructions on how to contact the owner of the site that stole your content and also their hosting company (see bottom of that page).
Some hosts will take the stolen content down immediately and possibly even remove the whole website. Other hosts will insist on your sending a DMCA report by certified mail according to their rules which are either on their website or they will send you by email (See more info below).
They may require you to prove you are the owner of the copied site. You can find instructions on How to Create an Electronic Signature here.
6. If contacting the offender or their hosting company doesn't work (sometimes they host their own site) then check their site and write all their advertisers, sponsors, membership organizations, ISP (Internet Service Providers), Google Spam Report, Google AdSense as well as any other PayPerClick Services, Yahoo Directory, DMOZ directory, including those who have linked to their website. Inform them this person has stolen your copyrighted content. However, beware, if you do this under false pretences it could result in your own site being removed. So get your facts straight first.
7. Before you file a DMCA report check Google for the main keyword phrases in your title. If the other site is ranking in the first few pages you might want to make an effort to get that stolen content removed. Otherwise ignore them because Google may already know they are a scraper.
Use this command in Google to search for their domain: site:Example.com . If they aren't listed Google may have already banned them. If only their home page is listed they may have been penalized. If their site is new it may not be indexed at all yet so check back later.
You can also use the command above to see if they have other articles copied from your site by adding any identifying information that they include in the copied articles, i.e., your name, your website, etc or the name of your other articles. in that case enter this command in Google: site:example.com other identifying Information from your site goes here
8. File a DMCA You have one more recourse of action before taking them to court - to file a DMCA report with Google (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) from within your Google Search Console account.
Also file one with all other major search engines that have this site listed. This is a lengthy process and must be filed via regular certified mail and if you aren't totally truthful could result in legal penalties for yourself, but is usually very effective.
9. Take them to Court Contact a lawyer experienced with copyright Infringement on the Internet.
Establishing Your Proof of Ownership
I would encourage anyone who needs proof they own copyrighted articles, who can't afford to purchase multiple registered copyrights from the US copyright office, to post them in a newsletter somewhere that provides a date. Be sure you have no relationship with the owner, i.e., not owned by a relative or a friend, etc., so it will be a valid unbiased third party.
If you just post it on your own website that is not enough proof (your word against theirs). If you intend to allow the article to be posted elsewhere on the Internet do not post it on your own site or you may be tagged with a duplicate content penalty by the search engines.
If you don't intend to post it anywhere but your own site then post it on your site and get a copy of Google's Cache with a date on it as soon as it's spidered (make a copy with your browser) and also print it out as well as the code. This is also effective 3rd party proof of when it was first published.
You can also write the article, seal it in an envelope and pay for Special Delivery via the post office and send it to yourself and don't open until needed, but this will only work if you have to appear in court to prove ownership and may not be sufficient proof then either. You can also take the printed copy to a notary public and have it notarized in case you need it in court some day.
Also see What to do if your Domain is Stolen
Examples of Getting Stolen Website Content Removed:
Example 1: Stolen Home page
One client's site had his content stolen by a hijacker using a free hosting service and this was repeated on multiple freebie sites which were all linked to his main site (which was a main competitor of the client's site). This "Thief" copied the text on the home page and also after the site was updated he had the audacity to "update" his site with the new text within 24 hours. The owner of the offending site was contacted several times asking him to remove the text with no results and then the hosting company was contacted which had very strict rules about copyright infringement by it's Free clients. All of the thief's freebie sites, with the stolen content, were taken down by the hosting company within 24 hours.
Example 2: Stolen Articles
The same person mentioned above also stole copyrighted articles from the same client and posted them in free ad sites across the internet. So far this has happened over 30 times. We have to write each site and request to have the copyrighted article removed or attributed to the proper author. Sometimes we have to write the hosting company to get the article removed. This has been very successful ONLY because the author of this article posted it the first time in a newsletter a few years previous to the copyright infringement which is still online with a date on it and a copy of it is also in the way back machine, i.e., we had very specific 3rd party proof that the original article was written by my client. This is what you need to prove ownership, or an official copyrighted document recorded by the US Gov. copyright office.
Example 3: Stolen Business Name
This same person (obviously not learning from his mistakes and having a few screws loose) then purchased a new domain which copied my clients business name with every link on the scraper's site directed to his main domain (a dummy domain). The sole purpose for this site was to be able to post the stolen article on his own site (all other pages on this site were total gibberish making no sense at all and filled with spam). This site's domain whois was falsified so we reported it to the site mentioned above that controls the registration of domain names and within 15 days the site was down. It came back up a few weeks later with the correct owners name on the domain whois.
We sent a DMCA report to the Host of the site and while they took the article down initially the client claimed it was his so the host had to put it back up. We were informed we needed to send in a DMCA report to the host, which we did. Then the ball was in the scraper's court to prove he owned the content or the whole site would be taken down. He couldn't do it of course so the website was taken down and has never reappeared.
Example 4: Stolen Copyrighted Content - Home Page
Another client had the main text of their home page copied and posted on another site that claimed to be reviewing websites. They posted it on 13 of their pages with each page focusing on another keyword. There were not only no reviews but also no links to my client's site. We found this stolen content when we noticed the site had lost all PR and had disappeared from Google's index and then searched for original text from the website in quotes and found the site with the stolen content.
We tried to contact the owner but all emails bounced. We wrote a Google Spam Report and all other engines listing this site. We then contacted the Host and they required a DMCA report which we sent (we also sent one to Google). Within 2 weeks the thief's website had totally disappeared from google's index and Google's index of the client site returned to normal and PR also. It took a few months for the keyword rank to come back, however.
NOTE: Google's claim that there is nothing a competitor can do to affect your ranking is not true as is evidenced by the above examples.
Example 5: Stolen Domain
Another example of stolen content is when you hire someone to build your site and your web designer puts your domain into their name and you end up (unknowingly) paying for a domain you don't even own. They are also using your content to feather their own nest and making you pay for it too. If you decide you want to extricate that domain from your web designer's clutches it can take months to get this resolved.
Testimonies From Those Having Their Content Stolen
I occasionally advise clients who have had their copyrighted content stolen and let them know how to get it removed from the other website.
Just a note of thanks to say I really appreciate all your advice and help you have been giving me. You are a kind and caring person and a real teacher and mentor. Best Regards: Rod Bird" Redwood Bridges
Copyright © 2-11-04, updated 12-15-19
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